|Love Amid the Ashes, Treasures of His Love Series #1|
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Readers often think of Job sitting on the ash heap, his life in shambles. But how did he get there? What was Job's life like before tragedy struck? What did he think as his world came crashing down around him? And what was life like after God restored his wealth, health, and family?
Through painstaking research and a writer's creative mind, Mesu Andrews weaves an emotional and stirring account of this well-known story told through the eyes of the women who loved him. Drawing together the account of Job with those of Esau's tribe and Jacob's daughter Dinah, Love Amid the Ashes breathes life, romance, and passion into the classic biblical story of suffering and steadfast faith.
Mesu Andrews is an active speaker who has devoted herself to passionate and intense study of Scripture. Harnessing her deep understanding and love for God's Word, Andrews brings the biblical world alive for her readers in this debut novel. She lives in Washington.
Favorite Verse:Zephaniah 3:17 – “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
Our Interview with Mesu Andrews
Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I lived amid the wholesome cornfields of Indiana most of my life until my husband recently accepted a teaching position at Multnomah Bible College. Now we love the Pacific Northwest and feel as though we’re on vacation most of the time! We have two grown daughters – my best friends.
I am sort of a spiritual mutt; my mom charismatic and my dad a Quaker. My grandparents were ordained ministers in the Pilgrim Holiness Church, then Nazarene and finally in the Wesleyan Church. Life was interesting growing up in the crossfire of debate over God’s Word. In my confusion, I turned away from the Lord as a teenager, but when I returned to Him, I had a tenacious hunger to study the Bible for myself.
What is your favorite Bible verse?
Zephaniah 3:17 – “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
I love the reminders of God’s might and His personal delight in me, but the real kicker it the thought of God singing! I’ve always thought of angels singing, but this verse tells me God sings. Can you imagine His voice in song?
How did you get started writing Christian fiction?
Kicking and screaming! I wanted to write Bible studies! Specifically, I fell in love with the Song of Songs and had been led to read all eight chapters everyday for a year. An intriguing story unfolded as I read, and a weekend retreat topic called, “Sacred Love, Sacred Dance,” was born. When I sought publication for the written version, I learned that it’s difficult to publish Bible study materials when one has no professional credentials. So a very wise friend convinced me (after many long and difficult conversations) to share the story through fiction. The Song of Songs novel was the manuscript that garnered Revell’s attention, but it will be the second book released (January 2012).
What inspired your interest in writing Love Amid the Ashes?
One of my greatest joys in writing biblical novels is bringing to life some of the lesser-known biblical characters and weaving together obscure Scripture passages. The story of Job has always intrigued me; and when doing some research I found that many commentators believe “Jobab,” the second King of Edom mentioned in Gen. 36:30-33, is the autobiographical author of the Book of Job. If this was true, then Job would have been Esau’s great-grandson. The wheels of my imagination began to spin, placing Job in the family line with Isaac’s tumultuous twins, Jacob and Esau, and the backstory was born.
How did you come up with the concept for Love Amid the Ashes?
Job’s wife is one of those mystery-women of the Bible. Was she as ornery as she sounds? Or was she an innocent victim of her husband’s testing? When I searched historical documents – the Targum of Job, the Septuagint, and the Testament of Job – I was amazed to find three separate theories on the identity of Job’s wife. Because the Bible doesn’t identify her, I carefully searched Scripture for other clues as to who she might have been. The Scriptures listed at the beginning of each chapter in the book describe the journey of three important women in Job’s life – each of them loving him in her own way. One woman is mentioned in Scripture, one mentioned in historical documents, and one created in my heart.
How much of Love Amid the Ashes is factual?
I believe God’s Word to be utterly, undeniably true and factual. My job, as a researcher, is to discover and study other ancient texts to find their relationship to Scripture. My job, as a writer, is to weave God’s truth and historical data together and then add imaginary characters and scenery to create a clear and compelling account of biblical characters. My delight is to write a story that compels the reader to seek out in Scripture – What is fact and what is fiction? The answer to the question, “How much is factual,” is: As much as possible!
How closely is Love Amid the Ashes based on your life experiences?
In 1997, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia after a prolonged virus in 1996. Previous to that illness, I had been a busy pastor’s wife with two active daughters. Fibromyalgia slows one down considerably, but I adjusted my schedule and began speaking at retreats and conferences as well as teaching three adult Bible studies in our church. Then in 2002, my body rebelled and I spent six months in bed. Blood work revealed some abnormalities, but the medical community had no answers. In 2003, a two-week stay at Mayo Clinic rendered three chronic diagnoses – all treatable, but none curable. I slowly regained some strength, but in 2005, daily migraines set in, and I continue to live a relatively quiet life. My ministry days are spent in front of my computer, writing for my Savior. The headaches are controlled for the most part with medication, and I speak occasionally rather than regularly.
Like Job, I have often asked why, especially in the early days of my illnesses. The grief of losing my “normal” life has finally been replaced by simply enjoying God’s presence. Silence once frightened me. Aloneness was my enemy. Now, the silence is simply the conduit of God’s voice, and I finally know I’m never alone. Truly, God spoke to me in the storm of life, just as He spoke to Job.
How long did Love Amid the Ashes take you to complete?
From the time I began research to the day I turned in the first rough draft – about a year.
Do you have a favorite character in Love Amid the Ashes? Why?
Wow, that’s a tough one. I love Dinah because of what she becomes after the abuses she has suffered. I admire Job’s legendary integrity. But probably my favorite character is fictitious – Dinah’s servant girl, Nogahla. I love her simple wisdom, the way she cuts through all the complexities and confusion with a single sentence. Her heart is so pure, so transparent. She sees people at their core. I love that about her.
How much research did Love Amid the Ashes take?
A ton! It was so fun! It seemed as if each time I found an answer to one question, that answer led me to ten more questions. Since most of Job’s story is contained in the first two and last chapters of his book, I gleaned most of the backstory from Dinah’s story, the history of Jacob and Esau, as well as a few other surprise characters along the way (mostly in Genesis). The historical texts – especially the Testament of Job – was very helpful to suggest a few plot twists. I’m blessed to have access to Multnomah University’s library, and the department chairman of biblical languages was an incredible help.
What was the most interesting tidbit that you learned while writing Love Amid the Ashes?
I had never heard of The House of Shem before I began researching this book. Rabbinical tradition defines it as a sort of ancient seminary for priests of the Most High before Moses and the Law came into existence. The House of Shem is referenced in the respected Hebrew text, the Book of Jasher, as a place where Jacob was sent “to learn the ways of the Lord, but Esau would not go.” I also found that Melchizedek, the great High Priest who Abram gave his tithe, was thought to have been a priest trained in the House of Shem. This “priest of a household” concept was important to the flow of Job’s story.
What are some of the challenges you face as an author?
Time and concentration. In order to create new story, I need large chunks of time to “enter into the ancient world.” Any interruption takes me out of the 2000 BC era, and then it takes me forever to delve into it again.
What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?
Even on the days when my body is on low octane, I can sit at my desk and type. I’m so thankful to have a ministry that’s not hindered by my health. I can reach more people through e-devotionals and biblical novels than I ever dreamed. God seldom does things the way I think He will – He’s always got a much better plan!
What is your writing style? (Do you outline? Write “by-the-seat-of-your-pants? Or somewhere in-between?)
I’m definitely a “pantser” – writing by the seat of my pants. The Scripture gives me a pretty good outline, and then historical data takes me to the next level. As I begin to imagine the story between the lines, I write the first draft. (My writers’ group calls it “word vomit.” Sorry.) Then we go back and cut, cut, cut. Being a Pantser means extra work, but I seem to get the best ideas when I just write and don’t over-plan.
Do your characters begin to take on a life of their own as you write?
Absolutely! The character, Nogahla, that I mentioned earlier – she started as a nameless servant, mentioned only twice in the early chapters. But I fell in love with her as I wrote more and more into her character.
What other new projects do you have on the horizon?
A second biblical novel will release with Revell in January of 2012, its working title – Love in a Shepherd’s Song. I’m also working on a novel series of Old Testament women called, Wives of Prophet, Priest and King. Of course, I would still love to publish some of the devotional studies, but for now I continue to send them as a free weekly e-devotional. Folks can sign-up for them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What message would you like your readers to take from Love Amid the Ashes?
I hope, when readers turn the last page, they realize suffering isn’t God’s way of pounding people. It’s His way of turning the enemy’s evil plan to good – shaping us and revealing Himself. Though Job asks “why” time and time again, God never reveals the cosmic reason for Job’s afflictions. He reveals only Job’s frailty in the shadow of a loving, almighty God. Job doesn’t respond with groveling and terror (as one might expect in the presence of such a display of God’s power), but Job shows wonder and obedience. I suppose that’s what I hope for from readers – wonder and obedience as they see God in a new way.
What is your greatest achievement?
Accepting grace. I’m thankful for our strong marriage, but I wonder how much of it is hard work and how much is simply the grace of God in our lives. I’m thankful for two daughters and a son-in-law that know Jesus Christ personally, but again – is it because we have taught them well, or is it by God’s grace that we’ve been spared what so many other parents suffer? I’m thankful to have finally gotten a book published. Praise God! I’m almost certain that was grace! But the hours upon hours of late nights and long edits have been blessed by God’s favor.
What is your goal or mission as a writer?
My goal is to continually be working on a single project with an editor. I love the pace of researching and writing one work at a time, giving it my full attention, researching with my whole heart.
What do you do to get away from it all?
My husband and I make time for dates. Time with him refreshes me. Even with grown daughters, life and schedules require us to make time to focus on each other. Once in a while, we’ll even schedule a short getaway to the coast or to a conference.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I believe there are three things that seared God’s Word into my heart. Though confusing at the time, growing up in a Christian home was a tremendous blessing that later drove me into God’s Word, seeking answers for myself. In the early days of my Christian life, I attended Bible Study Fellowship and received invaluable information and study habits there. Finally, as a pastor’s wife for fourteen years, the Lord used the heavy responsibility I felt as a leader to sharpen my study and teaching skills. I believe every step of a person’s journey – whether painful or pleasurable – can be redeemed by the Lord for good use.